Alison Pugash Runs San Francisco Marathon For Her Father

Alison Pugash was just 12-years-old when she lost her father to pancreatic cancer nearly 10 years ago. At the time of his passing, James Pugash was a successful 55-year-old who developed a real estate financing empire through his business, Hearthstone. To Alison, her father was much more than a successful businessman. He was her hero in life. For the past decade, she has had to face many major milestones without the guidance of her father. Because the impact on her life has been so far-reaching, Alison wants to help others who have been touched by the disease which took her father from her. She is preparing to run her first full marathon as a way to honor her father’s life and to raise money for pancreatic cancer research and patient financial aid.

Alison with her father
Young Alison with her father, James Pugash.

James Pugash was born in Buffalo, New York. He came from humble beginnings and was a self-made man who believed in the value of hard work. He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale.  From there, he went on to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and then attended Harvard Law School. After meeting his wife, Stephanie, in New Mexico, the couple eventually settled in the San Francisco Bay area. James founded the real estate business Hearthstone. Hearthstone pioneered the use of pension funds to create for-profit affordable housing developments. Alison says, “He was an incredibly hard worker and was extremely intelligent. He had an amazing work ethic.”

In addition to being an tremendously diligent man, James was a devoted father to Alison and her two older brothers, Andy and Toby. “He was an amazing father. We were the light of his life,” Alison says. “He loved his children so dearly. He wanted us to have the best education possible. He wanted to provide for us.”  James also believed in the power of philanthropic giving and he passed those values along to his children.

The Pugash Family
The Pugash Family

James was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2006. Because Alison was only 12-years-old, her parents attempted to shield her from the gravity of the situation. By the time his cancer was discovered, it had already spread throughout his body. James tried several rounds of chemotherapy in attempts to gain more time with his family. Ever the fighter, James threw everything he could at his disease. He worked with an Eastern Medicine doctor who did acupuncture. He tried a raw food diet. He exercised religiously. Unfortunately, nothing could keep his cancer at bay. James died only eight months after he was originally diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.

With her two older brothers away at college, Alison struggled to come to grips with the loss of her father. For the first couple of months following James’ passing, Alison and her mother were surrounded by family. Eventually, however, the two were left alone with their grief. “It was really hard. It was just me and my mom. There is a lot I don’t remember from that time, because it was just so tragic. I was in 8th grade and it was just before my thirteenth birthday.”

Alison and dad

Alison Runs to help her cope with losing her dad

The following year, as a high school freshman, Alison joined the Cross Country team. She found running on the local trails to be therapeutic. She recalls, “I was not a good runner. I just did it because I enjoyed it. I fell in love with running. It allowed me to have time to reflect after my dad passed away.” She continued running throughout college and completed a half-marathon in Staten Island while she was attending New York University.

After two years at NYU, Alison transferred to the University of Southern California. She recently graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies. She decided that the time was right for her to run her first marathon. In the philanthropic spirit that her father passed along to her, she only wanted to run a marathon if she could also raise money for pancreatic cancer. An internet search brought her to Project Purple. She decided to join the San Francisco Marathon team because she liked the idea of running a race close to home. She talked her brother, Toby, into running the marathon also, and the two have been supporting one another’s training efforts despite the fact that they live across the country from one another.


Alison feels that running for Project Purple brings meaning to her marathon experience. “I feel like this is something I just need to do because this cancer is so horrible. All of the pancreatic cancer statistics are awful. It is one of the top killers and the research is so underfunded. I want to prove to myself that I can run a marathon. There is so much inspiration in knowing that I am doing it for Project Purple and for the families affected by pancreatic cancer,” Alison says. She is particularly fond of Project Purple’s Patient Financial Aid program. She believes that no family should face financial ruin due to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and she is happy to know that funds she raises will provide immediate help to those who are battling the disease.

Having missed out on the past ten years with her father has been very hard for Alison. He missed her high school and college graduations and she knows that there will be many special occasions in the future where his absence will be painfully obvious. She explains, “It is really hard not having him for all of those major moments. I wish he could have seen all of the things I accomplished. I think about the experiences we could be having together.” Alison misses having her father present to turn to as she embarks upon her adult life. “I know he would have so much advice for me, especially because he was such a self-made man. I wish I could have heard his advice first-hand. I didn’t get to see him as clearly as a person as I would have if I had been an adult when he died. He is an enigma because I did not get to see it firsthand.”

Alison & Dad

Please support Alison as she fundraises for Project Purple. Donations may be made at the Crowdrise link below:

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